Judge Rex Armstrong

Oregon Court of Appeals

Rex Armstrong was born in Salem in 1950. His parents introduced him early to Oregon politics and government. His father served as Chief of Staff for Governors Douglas McKay, Paul L. Patterson and Elmo Smith, succeeding Tom McCall in that position.

In 1959, the Armstrong family relocated to Southwest Portland, where his mother became a high school teacher, obtained a doctorate in educational psychology, and founded the Institute for Managerial and Professional Women. His mother was deeply committed to promoting equality for women in all aspects of life, which led Rex and his siblings to share that commitment.

In his early years, Rex worked for his spending money. He picked strawberries and beans in fields near Progress that are now part of the Washington Square shopping center, and had Oregon Journal and Oregonian paper routes. He delivered flowers with his older brother on holidays for Tommy Luke Florists.

At his own initiative, Rex left Portland in 1964 to attend high school at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. That summer, his mother purchased a large trunk and packed it full of the things he would need for the ninth-grade academic year at Andover. Trunk packed, his parents took him to Union Station and put him on a train for Boston. He spent the next four days and three nights crossing the country by coach. When he arrived in Boston, he lugged his trunk from the train station to the bus station to catch a bus to Andover, where he was dropped at a corner to make his way to the campus. The independence that the trip reflected and the experience that Andover fostered are characteristic of Rex.

Rex spent the summer between high school and college working as a choke setter on a logging crew in Raymond, Washington, which led to an experience that affected his perspective on law. On the night that he left Raymond at the end of the summer, two jewelry stores in town were burglarized. The police came to believe that Rex had committed the burglaries, based on eyewitnesses who said that they had seen him in town that night looking in the jewelry store windows. The Raymond police chief traveled to Oregon to arrest Rex for the burglaries, but fortunately, Rex had an unassailable alibi. He had been stopped by a Washington State trooper while driving to Portland when he ostensibly was in Raymond committing the burglaries. Rex came away from the experience convinced that, but for the happenstance of the traffic stop, he would likely have been convicted of the burglaries if the case had gone to trial, which led him to appreciate the principles that animate our approach to the prosecution of people for crimes.

Rex got further drawn into politics while in college, serving as an intern in Senator Mark O. Hatfield's Washington office in 1971 and then as the Eastern Oregon field director for Hatfield's 1972 re-election campaign. In the latter position, he drove 70,000 miles in 10 months in Oregon campaigning for Hatfield, which gave him a good appreciation for the state. It also convinced him that he had no desire to run for elective office.

After a three-year hiatus, during which Rex worked as a long-haul truck driver in addition to his work with Hatfield, Rex returned to school at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, he took an undergraduate course on constitutional law that further focused his interest in law. That interest grew after reading several books about William O. Douglas, whose 36-year career on the US Supreme Court was drawing to a close.

When selecting an Oregon law school to attend, his undergraduate interest in Justice William O. Douglas led Rex to enroll at the University of Oregon School of Law so that he could take classes with Professor Hans Linde, who had clerked for Justice Douglas in 1950-51. Rex took all of the classes that he could with Linde, taking constitutional law in his third rather than second year to accommodate a Linde sabbatical. Rex continued his legal education with Linde by serving as Justice Linde's law clerk at the Oregon Supreme Court in 1977-78.

After his clerkship, Rex practiced law in Portland, focusing principally on civil litigation and appellate work. He also did a significant amount of work as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU, handling a number of cases that helped to develop Oregon's constitutional law on free speech and religious liberty.

In 1994, Judge Kurt Rossman decided to retire from the Oregon Court of Appeals and to have his seat filled by election rather than by gubernatorial appointment. Notwithstanding his earlier conviction that he would never run for elective office, Rex entered the race to succeed Judge Rossman and was elected to the court in November 1994. Ironically, had Judge Rossman's successor been appointed rather than elected, Rex would not have sought the position because the governor at the time was Barbara Roberts, who is Rex's step-mother-in-law.

He is married to Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts. From 1996 through 2007, Rex's family traveled to China to adopt eight children, which has helped foster a great interest in the country. An experience on their second adoption trip deepened Rex's appreciation for our judicial system. The police detained Rex in Changsha, China, for videotaping a street protest against what the protestors believed to be a corrupt court decision in favor of a wealthy land developer. The police released him after he erased the offending portion of the videotape and signed a confession, but the experience said much to him about the work that needs to be done to promote the rule of law in China.